Age of Father Can Alter Brain Development in Child

JUNE 16, 2017
Rachel Lutz
The age of a father can alter and even negatively affect the social development of his offspring, according to a new report.
 
Researchers from London and Mount Sinai used growth modeling to explore paternal age on social development in the general population. The researchers noted that in the past, studies have determined that advanced paternal age at conception is linked to autism and schizophrenia in the offspring, so they wanted to further examine the association.
 
The children’s cohort—which included more than 15,000 pairs of twins—was evaluated around the ages 4, 7, 9, 14, and 16 years old. The researchers used the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire from the Twins Early Development Study sample and its 5 subdomains, including conduct problems, emotional symptoms, hyperactivity, peer problems, and prosocial behaviors. They also used genetic and environmental factors of the paternal age to determine how those variables effect development.
 
The researchers discovered that advanced paternal age was linked to autism and schizophrenia, which the team believes are disorders continuously distributed throughout the population. Children born to fathers who were aged below 25 years or above 51 years demonstrated more prosocial behaviors in their early development. By the time those children reached adolescence, they fell behind peers with middle-aged fathers. The researchers explained that these results were specific to social behaviors.
 
The investigators added that these results did not hold true when observing mothers’ ages in relation to childhood and adolescent behaviors. Younger mothers’ offspring showed increased levels of hyperactivity and conduct problems, and lower emotionality, the researchers said, even though it was outside the focus of their study. This is partly explained by obstetric complications and other factors, but there does seem to be evidence for young motherhood and externalizing problems in the offspring, the authors said.
 
The study authors believe that children born to very young or older fathers may find social situations more challenging, even if they do not reach the diagnostic criteria for autism, they explained in a press release. They added that genetic factors from older fathers could suggest that there are different factors at play behind these effects, although not genetic factors from younger fathers. The causes could be different even though the eventual results—autism and schizophrenia in offspring—are similar.
 
The next step for the research team will be to replicate their findings, including determining more clearly their biological correlations. They will aim to do this through a larger sample size of twins, enabling them to further examine more subtle effects of paternal age. They believe these differences in older or younger fathers will be traceable differences in brain maturation. Eventually, the team believes they will be able to identify which neural structures are reliant on paternal age and effected at conception. Additionally, they want to study how the development of these children differs from typical patterns in the brain and understand the mechanism behind paternal age’s link to autism and schizophrenia.
 
The press release is found here, titled Paternal Age at Conception May Influence Social Development in Offspring.
 
The study, titled “Paternal Age Alters Social Development in Offspring,” was published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.
 
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